Stressed about the election? You must have a mental disorder!

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I am opposed to government licensing – and therefore government intrusion – regarding who may speak about behavior, emotions, perceptions, and generally the problems of life.  The First Amendment protects our right to speak.  That means also our right to think and believe as we wish, especially about the problems and joys of life.  (Of course, there are some exceptions to the freedom to speak, like fraud and slander, but these are few.)

I took the state of Texas to court over laws that violate the right to free speech under the guise of licensing psychologists.  The definition was too broad, and the Texas Legislature will reconsider these laws in 2017.

I want to address something today without sarcasm or humor.  I used to smirk about today’s topic, but it is not funny, given the many assaults on our capacity to behave as rational adults without turning to some “expert” telling us how to live.

The Washington Post reported this week that the American Psychological Association has released tips on how to cope if you are stressed out about the presidential election.  The name for this malady is Election Stress Disorder.

In the successful First Amendment lawsuit that I brought seeking to strike down the Texas psychology licensing law (Serafine v. Branaman), I argued, stated simply, that speech about behavior may not be prohibited by licensing services that talk about behavior, meanwhile prohibiting the speech of the unlicensed.  I also argued, although the court did not opine on this, that psychology as a field has no knowledge base on which any coherent licensing might possibly be based, assuming you could get around the First Amendment.

Presumably the pro-licensing people believe that one needs a license to diagnose “disorders” and then give advice about how to cope with the disorder you have been told that you have.

So let’s consider Election Stress Disorder.

I’m not saying the APA is giving therapy advice in its writings just by giving the tips in the article.  But clearly this organization makes some claim to advanced expertise beyond that of the ordinary grandmother, or else it would not be putting its name to it.  Here are the tips:

• If the 24-hour news cycle of claims and counterclaims from the candidates is causing you stress, limit your media consumption.

• Avoid getting into discussions about the election

• Stress and anxiety about what might happen is not productive.

• Whatever happens on Nov. 8, life will go on.

• Vote.

And if these don’t cure your symptoms, the article has a link that’s marked: “Feeling anxious ahead of the debate?  Here’s how to cope with ‘Election Stress Disorder.'”

There is nothing here that reflects expertise beyond that of a normal person.

I recognize that these are publications, not laws.  But this is what government intrusion will look like if we permit the licensing of advice-giving.  Given that the American Psychological Association proposes model legislation for adoption by all states, it’s high time more people consider infringements on free speech – and free thought – created by licensing regimes for psychologists.


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